Looking for a holiday gift for the gardener who has everything?
How about a bottle tree?
The decorative "trees" - with colored-glass bottles for "branches" - are a tradition in the rural South and the Caribbean. Now they're becoming a popular garden ornament in other climes, as well as the subject of a forthcoming book and a recent front-page story in the Wall Street Journal.
"Bottle trees are the modern pink flamingo," garden author Felder Rushing told the Journal.
Gardener Maggie McDonald, who lives in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., had been pining for one ever since she first saw a homemade one at a friend's place. "I've wanted a bottle tree for so long," she said.
McDonald bought her "tree," trimmed with cobalt-blue bottles, in June.
Jerry Swanson, the Princeton, Wis., artist who made McDonald's tree, has about two dozen of his Bottle Tree Creations (www.bottletreecreations.com) on his property and has sold them to customers in 38 states.
A longtime bottle collector and master gardener, he got the idea while looking at his bare winter landscape. "I was trying to think of a way to use my blue bottles," he said.
He experimented and did some research, quickly learning that his idea wasn't new or original but has a long and colorful history. According to his research, bottle trees have their roots in ninth-century Africa, where the tradition for honoring deceased relatives was to surround the grave with plates.
Later, the slave trade brought the tradition to the Americas, where it morphed into hanging colorful bottles on trees, in hopes of attracting and distracting evil spirits that might be lurking near the house.
Swanson makes trees in many colors but his most popular are cobalt blue, he said. His bottle trees cost $40 to $500, depending on size.